What an exciting 48-hour period for Oilers fans, with the previous three Stanley Cup champions in town. Pittsburgh, who won the Cup in 2016 and 2017, was here for an entertaining 6-5 OT victory on Tuesday and tonight the 2018 champion Washington Capitals are here.
Tuesday’s game was very exciting and I think we will see similar fireworks tonight.
1. The Capitals powerplay is deadly. They have 12 goals in 31 chances this season. Their PP is ranked #1 at 38.7%. They have four of the top-five powerplay point leaders as Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson have eight points and Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin have seven. Kuznetsov has five goals while Ovechkin has four. Their top unit is deadly, and yesterday at practice Todd McLellan spent a lot of time working on the Oilers PK and outlining what to be prepared for.
2. What makes the Capitals PP so deadly is even though teams know what they like to do, find Ovechkin on the left side, teams can’t stop it. Ovechkin’s one-timer is only one facet of their PP. Their puck movement, deft passing and chemistry among their group is a joy to watch. It will be scary for the Oilers defenders, and the fans, but it is great to watch.
3. The Oilers PP is very good right now as well. They scored twice against Pittsburgh (who had second best PK at the time) and are now fifth in the NHL at 30.4%. Just like Washington, the first unit has scored all the PP goals. Neither team’s second unit has been able to produce a goal. McDavid has seven PP points and joins the four Capitals in the top-five in PP scoring. McDavid has been involved in all seven PP goals, while Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have points on five of the seven PP markers.
4. The Oilers PK has improved after a rough start, allowing three goals in the first two games. They’ve only given up two PP goals in their last five games and are now 18th on the PK. The Capitals PK is struggling having allowed nine goals and sit 25th in at 71.9%. The Oilers scored twice on the second best PP on Tuesday and a good PP tonight could keep them in the game.
5. Cam Talbot needs to be better. He is 27th in SV% (.891) among goalies with at least four starts. He was at .906% prior to the Pittsburgh game, which would have him 20th in the NHL. He has played okay, but he needs to be better for the Oilers to make the playoffs.
6. “I told you so. Ten days ago Puljujarvi was playing with Strome and having some success. He scored on one shift with McDavid in Winnipeg and suddenly many screamed move him up. Why? One game means nothing. JP needs to have multiple games of playing well. Put him back with Strome and keep him there,” said Jason Strudwick. Strudwick was adamant Puljujarvi needed to put together solid games, not just points, but being engaged, making plays for multiple games on the third line before moving him up the lineup. Makes sense. McLellan should put Puljujarvi back with Strome and leave him there.
7. I have preached patience with Puljujarvi for over two years. His confidence is clearly low right now, but playing him more won’t fix it, unless you play him a lot in the AHL. Right now he isn’t a difference maker, so if he isn’t in the NHL it won’t cost the Oilers games. Him playing big minutes on PP, PK and EV in minors will help round out his game, which, hopefully for Oilersnation, means he will become a difference maker in the future. If he is still struggling when Rattie and Caggiula are healthy I’d send Puljujarvi to the AHL. He needs to play a lot and the Oilers need to him to become a contributing player, so the move that helps both sides is him playing a lot with other young players in the AHL. Unless he strings together a solid stretch of NHL games, I’d strongly consider a move to Bakersfield.
8. I asked TSN analyst Ray Ferraro what he sees in Puljujarvi right now.
“When I watch Puljujarvi I see some really good things, and then I see times where he looks like a timid kid. Why don’t they send him down? Well there’s a couple of reasons I think; one, is to cover their ass a little. You’ve got a high draft pick and it looks like a failure when the other three guys taken ahead of him are playing in the NHL and producing. Maybe that’s some of it. Some of it may be that they can keep a closer eye on his development while he plays sporadically in Edmonton. I know, as a player who is supposed to produce, it’s really difficult to have the confidence to make a play when you know if you make a mistake you ’re going to lose your spot and sit for five or six minutes, so you make the safe play all the time. Connor McDavid, not to compare the two, doesn’t always make the safe play. He makes the play that he thinks is the right play, because if he screws up, he screws up. He’ll go and try and fix it. Nugent Hopkins has come out of that shell, there’s way more offence there but he’s responsible, he doesn’t want to make mistakes, so you dumb your game down and leave half your toolbox in the shed. When I watch Puljujarvi I think he’s just trying to survive. He’s trying to score, but he’s not trying to produce, but he’s trying to survive. If you’re going to send him, which I’d be okay with, then commit to sending him. Don’t say it is only for a specific amount of time. Tell him ‘You’re going to tell us when you’re ready by being in the American league and being too good in that league.’”
I’ve said for years Oilers management hasn’t helped Puljujarvi develop. He wasn’t NHL ready the previous two years. He should have stayed in Finland at 18 and then spent last season in the AHL. They can’t change the past, but they sure as hell can control the present. Who cares what other players are doing? Where he was drafted is meaningless today. The organization needs to have the courage to make the right move and not worry how it looks. Do what is best for Puljujarvi, because doing that should ultimately help the Oilers in the long run. I do know the coaches are spending more time working with him. Communicating on what they want, and encouraging him to not focus on points, but that by doing the little things right the points will come. He is going through the phase many young skilled forwards go through, and that is realizing how to impact a game without getting points. It is difficult to accept and adapt to and some players take longer than others in figuring out they can help the team even if they don’t produce points.
9. Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto are both 20 years young, but right now Yamamoto is doing a lot of little things to make an impact in the game. Obviously, he isn’t dominating, but he is around the puck and involved in the play. He only has one goal, but he is around the net, has made good decisions with the puck and he gets in lanes to disrupt passes. He also is tied with McDavid for the team lead in penalties drawn at five. Despite his lack of size and strength, compared to most NHL players, he wins his fair share of battles. He has been better than I expected. I thought he’d be better off starting in the AHL, and he has proven me wrong. If he continues to have an impact it games then keep him here, but if he starts to struggle as the NHL rounds into form and the games get faster and harder, then they shouldn’t hesitate to send him to the AHL. But right now he is showing he knows how to do the little things, and even though he isn’t scoring as much as he’d like he is having a positive impact in games. His points will come.
10. Evan Bouchard turned 19 last Saturday. In six games he is averaging 12:35 TOI/game, has no points, is -4, has eight shots on goal, six missed shots, has a CF% of 56.4 and has a scoring chance ratio for-against of 22-26. Bouchard thinks the game very well. He is poised with the puck and I think he will be a good defender in the future, but there is no reason to play him more than nine games this season. None. Please don’t tell me he has nothing to gain in juniors. He didn’t make team Canada last year. He wasn’t that dominant. He can keep developing and most importantly maintain a high level of confidence.
The Oilers have wisely sheltered him on the third pairing. His CF% looks great, but remember playing with Jason Garrison and Kevin Gravel his CF% is 62.7% and 64.2% respectively. They get a lot of offensive zone starts, which they should, and Trent Yawney has tried limiting his exposure to top players. He has shown well and got a taste of the NHL, but there is no sane reason to waste a year of his ELC by keeping him past ten games, and definitely not all season. The looming expansion draft is another factor. If the draft doesn’t occur until 2021, then Bouchard would be exempt if he isn’t here all season. If he is, then he would need to be protected. Again, that should not happen.
Here is the list of recent defenders who played in the CHL at 19. It did not hurt their development at all.
Alex Pietrangelo (fourth overall, 2008). He played nine games at 18 and then again at 19. The Blues kept him with the team until the end of November, but he only played nine games before being sent to the WJC, and then back to junior in January.
Ryan Ellis (11th overall, 2009). Didn’t play any NHL games at 19. At 20 and 21 he split half the year between AHL and NHL playing a total of 64 NHL games and 61 AHL games over two years. He became and NHL regular at 22.
Dougie Hamilton (9th overall, 2011). Didn’t play any games at 18, and his 19 year-old-season was the lockout. He is an oddity because of that as he was allowed to start the season in junior where he played 32 games, then played at the WJC and then dressed in 42 NHL games starting in late January. He got sheltered third pair minutes and second unit PP on a deep Bruins team. Two people within the Bruins organization said they weren’t sure if he would have stuck after nine games in a regular season. He benefited from an extra half season in the OHL.
Ryan Murray (fourth overall 2012). Didn’t play in NHL at 19. Debuted at 20 and had a solid rookie season. He only played 12 games in his second season due to a shoulder injury. Has been a steady, but not spectacular NHL defender.
Matt Dumba (seventh overall, 2012). He played 13 games in NHL at 19 before the Wild loaned him to the WJC team and then he returned to the WHL. They wasted a year of his ELC so he could play four extra games. They knew who he was in the first nine games, but some NHL teams can be very stubborn so they played him in four more games before making the right decision and sending him back. He spent 20 games in the AHL the following season and has steadily improved as an NHL player producing seasons of 16, 26 and 34 points. Last year, at 23 years of age, Dumba produced 50 points.
Darnell Nurse (seventh overall, 2013). He played two games at 19 before going back to junior. He played at the WJC and then big minutes in Sault Ste. Marie.
Other top-ten picks since 2008 showed they were ready to play in the NHL at 19 like Seth Jones, Ivan Provorov, Zack Werenski, Mikhail Sergachev, Noah Hanafin, Aaron Ekblad, Rasmus Ristolainen, Morgan Reilly, Hampus Lindholm, Jacob Trouba, Drew Doughty etc. Players develop at different times, but there is nothing wrong with Bouchard spending another year in the OHL.